End of year message from Claudia Coenjaerts Director, ILO Decent Work Team and Office for the Caribbean

Although unemployment in Latin America and the Caribbean decreased slightly in 2018, too many men and women lost their jobs due to closures of businesses or public sector shrinking, and the young people of the Caribbean continue to feel it is better to prepare for out-migration than to build a future in their countries.

News | 20 December 2018
As we get ready to spend precious time with our families and loved ones, it seems befitting to not just celebrate and enjoy, but also reflect and review, commit and resolve. 

In these turbulent times, where division is everywhere, the task of delivering social justice and decent work is more relevant – more urgent - than ever.  We are 3 years into implementation of the 2030 Agenda and it is clear that, though we are making progress, we need to accelerate implementation and results. 

Although unemployment in Latin America and the Caribbean decreased slightly in 2018, too many men and women lost their jobs due to closures of businesses or public sector shrinking, and the young people of the Caribbean continue to feel it is better to prepare for out-migration than to build a future in their countries.  Poverty and inequality continue to rise and too many people feel that life does not provide the opportunity for a productive life and a constructive family.  The data on crime are both a reflection and a result of the crisis we find ourselves in. We need more jobs and we need better jobs.

As Small Island Developing States we are more exposed than anyone to natural disasters. We saw with Irma and Maria last year how much devastation it brings and how hard it is to recover livelihoods, jobs, businesses. The impact of climate change is harder on us than on others. The Paris Agreement can help us in making sure we acquire the tools for transformation. We must turn our vulnerability into resilience. The OECS as well as other Caribbean countries has partnered with the ambitious Climate Smart Accelerator Programme; Guyana embarked on its Green State Development Strategy and is now after Barbados the second country in the region having joined PAGE.  We need strengthened ILO constituents and institutional reform if resilience goals are to be fully realized. Successfully transitioning to environmentally sustainable societies means that as we introduce new technologies, people get the support they need to acquire the right skills, address productivity issues, that there are social protection mechanisms to cushion any fallout along the way and must be assured that their rights will be guaranteed.

Policy choices matter.  They need to be underpinned with data, with choices that put sustainability first.
 
Social dialogue is the software we need to navigate the turbulent waters ahead of us. If it is to be a strengthening tool, we must engrain basic principles of emotional intelligence and apply strong soft skills: respect for the other, trustworthiness, integrity, fairness, restraint, a commitment to win-win.   Social dialogue can only work if it is founded on trust.  It is a work in progress, and it can only be successful with genuine and continued engagement.

With a fast pace of change in our world of work, making sure people are equipped and supported through transitions may well be the most important focus of the future. The role of institutions and public actors is key. Our work is urgent.  Ministries of Labour need resources and they need the skills and leadership to work with others. Policy integration is often the missing element in programmes and interventions that could otherwise be successful. We work too much in isolation and our work remains fragmented and often without really knowing if we did achieve results and impact. The sustainable development goals bring together the need for social, economic and environmental progress and we need a paradigm that is founded on collaboration and partnerships. 

This is also the spirit of the ongoing UN Reform. As a specialized agency of the UN, the ILO is actively and substantially engaged in this reform and the UN Secretary General reassured our Governing Body in November that tripartism and social dialogue will be incorporated in the effort to ensure the United Nations remains “fit for purpose”. Each of our partners in the region has an important responsibility to engage in local processes to accelerate progress for successful SDG implementation. 
 
2019 will be a special year. It will mark our Centenary and we count on you to join us as we celebrate how the ILO’s work continues to affect all our lives, from the hours we work and rest, to our safety and health at work, our jobs and wages, our pensions and overall working conditions. The Global Commission on the Future of Work will present its report in January, which will certainly provide a basis for engagement and discussion in our region throughout the year.

The Panama Declaration adopted at the end of the 19th American Regional Meeting called on the region’s partners to work together to create a better future with decent work and social justice. We have our work cut out for us.  I and my wonderful team in Port of Spain much look forward to continue to serve you in your quest for more jobs, for better jobs and for a future of work that continues to put people at the center.